Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville explains how
volunteers helped his city after a massive
flood in 2010.

At the June 17 Global Forum on Disaster Preparedness and Recovery, sponsored by UPS, four U.S. mayors – Karl Dean of Nashville, Laurie Gill of Pierre, S.D., Edna Branch Jackson of Savannah, Ga., and Dayne Walling of Flint, Mich. – joined Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer for a discussion about what communities can do to prepare for disaster.

Volunteers play a critical role when disaster hits, the mayors agreed, but it’s critical to have a plan in place about how to coordinate volunteers well before disaster happens.

When a flood devastated Nashville in 2010, the city already had made an agreement with Hands On Nashville to handle volunteer coordination – an arrangement established during a time when the city was anticipating a possible avian flu outbreak.

”When the flood hit, they were in a position to get volunteers involved immediately,” Mayor Dean said. Within the first week and a half, there were 20,000 volunteers helping Nashville clean up and recover.

Spencer said the Nashville example shows why preparation is crucial. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, she said, “you do not want to be trading business cards and signing agreements.”

And just as cities should be prepared, so should their residents, the mayors said. Volunteers can help there, too.

The audience heard from Izola Maria Nichols of Birmingham, Ala., who credited an AmeriCorps member for preparing her family shortly before floodwaters seeped into her home. Nichols said, “We held a disaster training event at our church not realizing that two weeks later we would need it ourselves.”